Mama, The Aunts and the fabric of memory
I’ve been missing Mama and The Aunts a lot lately. Mama’s birthday was July 4, and the second anniversary of Aunt Ruby’s passing is coming up on August 12, so I guess those are a couple of reasons they’ve been on my mind. While I was blessed to know all of Mama’s sisters well, when I refer to The Aunts, it’s Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha I am thinking of.
They were the ones who sewed quilts together with Mama, along with Ruby Allred, our next-door neighbor on Ford Street. I and many of my family members possess these works of art and craft, some stored away in cedar chests while others decorate our beds and couches. Their colors and patterns brighten our lives and homes with warmth, both physical and spiritual.
It is fairly easy to determine the age or era of our family quilts by the fabrics used to make them. Lots of the older ones contain material from many of Granny’s old dresses, and they are backed with a type of cotton fabric that Mama and The Aunts called “domestic”. It was basically a coarse cotton muslin near as I can tell. Later quilts were backed with king-size bed sheets. They provided a good expanse of seamless fabric and were smoother than domestic. I think that domestic had become more costly as well, which may have contributed to the switch. Some of the later quilts also had lighter-weight batting inside between the patterned top and the plain backing. These lighter quilts are perfect for use in warmer weather.
The older quilts backed with domestic seemed to pucker up more after laundering, especially if the batting was also all-cotton. I love that almost seersucker-y texture of an old quilt, as well as the weight and substance of it. I love the contrast of white stitching against solid-colored fabric. Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred sewed with such precision! They made such teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches, as Aunt Martha would say, “Ever’ stitch a stitch of love.”
Nowadays quilts are available in many stores, mass-produced, machine-made items, often designed to look like their older, handcrafted counterparts. And many of them are good quality and beautiful. I’ve actually bought some retail quilts over the years. But even the nicest ones can’t rival the quilts made by Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred. The hours spent choosing the fabrics, cutting and marking, and the late nights sitting around the frames as their thimbled fingers sewed—no amount of money can buy the love they left behind, in stitches.